Welfare to Work Forum

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 11th January 2005.

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Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow Maryhill 11:30 am, 11th January 2005

If he will make a statement on the operation of the welfare to work forum in Glasgow.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

The Government's measures, such as the new deal, have been very successful in moving people from welfare into work. However, more needs to be done and we will continue to work with the Glasgow welfare to work forum, as well as with others.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow Maryhill

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the ambitious plans of the welfare to work forum to create 30,000 jobs in the city by the end of 2010. Given the current favourable economic conditions and, as reported in this month's Insider magazine, the massive growth in profits of the top 500 companies in Scotland, I believe those plans are achievable, but it will require the closest co-operation between all public agencies—here at Westminster, the local authorities and the Scottish Executive. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that his Department will be actively involved in working with the forum to achieve success for Glasgow?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Yes, I can. My hon. Friend is right: what is striking about the forum in Glasgow is the common interest between not only public bodies and others with a long history of trying to help people get into work, but also private sector companies, because they realise that it is in their interest that we expand the work force so that we have more people available for work. It is worth bearing in mind what has happened over the past few years with the new deal: in Glasgow, nearly 5,500 lone parents, 1,400 adults, more than 25,000 people with disability and 1,600 people aged over 50 have moved from welfare into work thanks to the new deal. Many other measures can be taken, but there is a big difference between 10 or 15 years ago, when the then Government either ignored unemployment or thought it an inevitable fact of life, and the situation today where there is universal determination to get as many people into work as possible.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

The Secretary of State is right to acknowledge the valuable work that has been done both through the active labour market policies promoted by the Government and through the forum, as was rightly raised by Ann McKechin, but does he not think it slightly strange that training providers are not part of the forum? He is right to say that the commercial sector has a part to play, but there are no training providers on the forum itself. Furthermore, there is no flexibility about some of the funding streams. Up to £90 million may be available to the forum but there is little flexibility in how it can use much of that money. Would not access to training providers and more flexibility in the use of funding make the Glasgow welfare to work forum even more effective than it is now?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I am sure that is something the forum would like to consider. I know that the hon. Gentleman, through his experience of chairing the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, will be well aware of the fact that the Department has shown itself open to looking at new ideas in relation to funding. Let me give him an example: the pathways to work programme, which has been very successful in pilot form in getting people into work, is being extended across the whole country and it will include Glasgow.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will continue to keep flexibility under review. The main thing, however, is to concentrate on getting as many people as possible into work, and, especially in Glasgow, the comparatively high number of people on incapacity benefit who really do need to be helped into work as quickly as possible.

Photo of David Marshall David Marshall Labour, Glasgow Shettleston

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the foundation for the welfare to work forum is the tried and tested new deal? Is not it the case that the Liberals opposed the funding of the new deal and that the Tories will abolish it? In contrast to those shameful policies, will the Secretary of State ensure that the necessary resources continue to be made available to tackle the scourge of long-term unemployment and to provide education and training to the youngsters who so desperately need it?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I agree with my hon. Friend. The new deal will remain the foundation of everything we do to help people into work. It is worth bearing in mind that employment in Scotland has risen by 174,000 people since 1997. Many of us in Scotland remember what happened in the 1980s and the early 1990s when hundreds and thousands of people were condemned to unemployment, we had a second generation of people growing up who had no experience of work and there was precious little help from the then Government. As for the Liberals, my hon. Friend is right—they are in favour of the new deal, but they were actually against the means of funding it, which is a typical Liberal attitude towards such matters.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland)

Getting people off incapacity benefit and back to work is an important part of welfare to work. Is the Secretary of State aware of the Citizens Advice Scotland report entitled "Riding the Benefits Roller-coaster", which raised serious concerns about the rigidity of the existing system for incapacity benefit and concluded that claimants fall between gaps in the system when their conditions change? What are the Government doing to help people on incapacity benefit get back to work rather than penalising them?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

As I said just a few moments ago, the Department for Work and Pensions has piloted a programme known as pathways to work, which is specifically designed to help people who are on incapacity benefit to get into work. The pilot scheme has shown that it is much more successful than conventional programmes, precisely because it offers help that is tailored to individuals. I visited a scheme in Renfrewshire a few months ago, with the First Minister, and we met a number of people who had taken part in the pilot scheme and had been got back into work. They had been given help and assistance that they would not receive under conventional schemes. That all shows that, when a Government are determined to work with others to help people into work who, historically, have simply been dumped by the system, we can make a very real difference. The fact that there are now record numbers of people in work, including people coming off incapacity benefit, shows why it is so important to stick with the new deal and not to do away with it, as the Tories would do, so returning us to the days of very high unemployment, when a whole generation of people were simply written off by the then Government.